The hidden sexism in workplace language

While we may think we’ve come a long way, sexism remains in the corners of the words and phrases we use at work, says Mark Peters.

Neanderthalic behaviour such as calling a woman “honey” or “baby” is as out of fashion as cave paintings. Particularly in the workplace, certain kinds of sexist language are simply no longer accepted.

But there’s mounting evidence, anecdotal and scientific, that gender-propelled language and attitudes are still common in many places of employment. Gendered words are thrown around constantly. In performance reviews, women tend to receive feedback that’s vague (“you had a great year” for example) or sexist,

such as a disproportionate amount of comments on communication style, while men get clearer feedback about specific skills related to actual job performance. The disparity in how men and women are addressed can be even worse in emails. Even phrases as seemingly harmless as “two guys in a garage” can carry a gendered point of view, sending subliminal messages about who belongs somewhere.

Disentangling language and gender isn’t easy, since the two have a long-term relationship that is complicated. The two intermingle in so many ways, some obvious and some more subtle.

Lingering stereotypes

Many terms are objectively gendered, like the ones Deb Liu, a Facebook executive, started collecting at work. Some are old-fashioned, like a gentleman’s agreement, an expression that’s been around since the 1920s, but feels even older. Some are sports-related, like man-on-man defence and quarterback. Others sound like a team of 1940s superheroes: wingman, strawman, middleman, right-hand man, and poster boy. Many female terms noted by Liu are negative. No one, male or female, wants to be called a prima donna, drama queen, mean girl, Debbie Downer, or Negative Nancy, despite the appeal of alliteration.

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Source By http://www.bbc.com

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